A Magazine about the Hudson Valley’s local economy, published by Hudson Valley Current.

Tipping Point

by Ajax Greene  

To begin, let me share a story. Recently a local friend who grew up in the north country of New York near the Adirondacks was telling the story of his uncle, who he described as a “redneck conservative.” My friend’s uncle owns a once-struggling sawmill that was challenged by rising utility bills. At my friend’s suggestion the uncle investigated and eventually installed solar. Let’s be clear: There was not a shred of idealism here. This was, plain and simple, an effective way to reduce and control costs. Yet a funny thing happened on the way to success.
Coincidentally the demand for sustainably produced lumber is high, and just by word of mouth people started hearing about his sustainable operation. Entirely by accident, his business soared: To date he has tripled the size of his business and is up to 25 employees. This “redneck” is so excited by his “New Economy” customers, he has joked the next step in growing his business is to do his own deliveries in a truck using veggie oil as fuel. He thinks his customers would respond well.
This is exciting to me on several levels: solar, triple-bottom-line, sustainable business is not a fad. It does not require that someone believe in an idealistic vision; it is simply a better way to do business. I also think is shows an early adopter advantage as none of his competitors were thinking this way. He got there first and benefitted. What are you waiting for?
There is a widespread feeling amongst forward-thinking folks that the Hudson Valley is on the verge of an economic renaissance. I believe 2014 is going to be the beginning of an amazing economic time here. Why?
Let’s start with food. Everyone eats. With Glynwood’s farmer training program getting started in New Paltz and the Local Economies Project of the New World Foundation’s acquisition of Gill Farm in the Rondout Valley (also not ignoring our friends at Hawthorne Valley Farm in Columbia County), in the next few years the Hudson Valley will be by far the leading region nationally focused on farm-to-table sustainable farming. This is transitioning us to a food infrastructure based on triple-bottom-line Localism that will support us far into the future. Not overnight, but this will eventually send positive ripples through farming, retail, restaurants, real estate, tourism and more.
Previously I have described in more depth the opportunity to brand the Hudson Valley as an East Coast version of Ojai, CA, or Sedona, AZ—a place for wellness and spiritual renewal (a cornerstone of our health is what and how we eat). Combine that with the widely known fact that Ulster County has the most artists per capita in the US. Farmers, massage therapists, and artists are not usually talked about in the same sentence.
Why am I so over-the-top excited about the future? First, we will achieve amazing progress propelled by locally owned independent businesses that are environmentally sustainable and socially aware of the communities where they are. This renaissance is not about being “saved” by some big company. Those days are long gone. No business or even individual is too small to be an active participant and beneficiary of this revival. The ripples of this work will flow out across just about every industry involving almost everyone. I truly believe there will be cross-industry collaborations that we have not even thought of yet: farmers and artists working together for mutual benefit and the like.
Another element that excites me is the resilience this will create: economic resilience, environmental resilience, social and community resilience, and being more resilient to adverse weather events—all vital elements in creating regional prosperity, health and happiness.
Back to Uncle Sawmill’s leadership: This revival will grow gradually over a series of years. Early adopters will be the biggest winners. It’s not about size; it’s about Localist triple-bottom-line innovation. As you may have frequently read here, it will be your ability to collaborate with your peers that will drive your individual success. Resilience is about “we”, not “me”.
Old paradigms are slowly dying and this is creating huge opportunities. The more you can decouple yourself from the old economy and move to a New Economy model, the better off you will be.
Act Now!
Does the discussion of a New Economy confuse you? Are you a member of a group made up of folks equally confused? You can always reach out through Re>Think Local to have me offer your group an informative, educational and motivational talk with timely ideas you can use.